3 Tips for Cross-Cultural Travel

Mike LabunSpecialized0 Comments

Who wouldn’t trust him? His English was excellent, and with his wide jaw and easy smile he looked like a Punjabi Robin Williams. He was offering a taxi cab ride to the Delhi railway station for 300 rupees – and told us that even the tuk-tuk drivers would charge more. What we didn’t know is that we would never make it to the railway station.

Our journey ended in front of a small building that – like many others – had a sign that said “Tourist Information.” The people there energetically informed us that 80-90% of the trains were cancelled due to the fog and the remaining trains were booked for two days. More than half of Delhi was blocked off and dangerous due to the election and resulting riots, and it was certainly not safe for a young woman (I was travelling with my 16-year-old daughter). We should take their offer of a driver who would take us to our desired destinations for a good price.

Through my web research I knew that at least half of what they said was true. While I felt corralled, I accepted their offer.

I wish I hadn’t. Lodging was part of the package, but it was uncomfortable. The “free breakfast” was four pieces of toast. While lunch and dinner were supposed to be “on our own,” our driver kept taking us to overpriced restaurants, despite our protests.

Discontented with our driver, we gave him the day off and hired a tuk-tuk to take us to a nearby bazaar. The tuk-tuk gave us a better-than-fair price but told us as we drove that the bazaar was undoubtedly closed at this time of day. Not to worry, he knew of a store.

It was overpriced. We asked for a cheaper store. It was only slightly less overpriced. The third store was slightly less overpriced than the second. We gave up, bought what we needed and told the driver to take us to the hotel.

At lunch, we ignored advice regarding where to eat and chose a restaurant ourselves. As we were poring over the international-style menu, we noticed a page with advice for travellers: “Beware of cab drivers who charge unusually low fees. They will take you to their friend’s businesses and get a cut.”

We looked at each other with wide eyes. A menu had just explained our first two days in India.

As we continued our trip, we found that everyone had an opinion about what we should do or where we should go. When we didn’t take their advice, they persisted, until we clearly, emphatically said “No” and walked away. I found myself becoming angry. To me, India seemed filled with nosy, meddling people who wanted my money.

Now, a month into the trip, I have discovered people also offer advice even when they have nothing to gain from it. I’ve learnt that giving advice – at times persistently – is something everyone does. As I write this, I’m staying in a village that is a 2-hour walk from the nearest vehicle. I’m at the home of an elderly couple and their son, Arju, and his four children. It isn’t his decision to live with his parents. When Arju was just two years from retirement, his older brother pointed out that Mom and Dad needed Arju to return home. He obediently left his job and came back to take care of them

As for me, I’ve had to develop a technique for dealing with unwanted advice. I practice a kind of mindfulness: I breathe deeply, and notice that I feel like I’m being controlled. I calmly look at the person giving advice, and respond in a relaxed way, knowing that I don’t have to accept anything the advice-giver says, no matter how pushy he (it’s usually a he) may seem. Sometimes I end the conversation and privately rally my family if I feel I need to pull us in a different direction.

I don’t think I’ll adopt the Indian habit of advice-giving, I certainly shouldn’t trust everyone here, but I’m no longer surprised or angry when I get pushy or self-serving advice. Sometimes just being wiser and calmer is good enough when communicating cross-culturally.

I’ve learned that these three tips are good advice when travelling or communicating cross-culturally:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Notice your feelings.
  3. Choose your own path.

For more on communication and culture, you may enjoy ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance’s workshop, Culture and Diversity – Strategies for Working with Differences.

Mike Labun
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

Mike Labun is a trainer and consultant with ACHIEVE Training Center. Currently, he is travelling with his family in Asia for over two months, writing, speaking and yes, being a tourist.

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